Best of the World: seven unforgettable family journeys for 2021 and beyond

Explore new horizons on your family getaways next year, with trips that take in European castles, Olympic Japan, First Nations culture in Canada and space-age travel in the US.

Published 17 Nov 2020, 12:54 GMT, Updated 20 Nov 2020, 11:17 GMT
Forest walk, North Vancouver, British Columbia.

Forest walk, North Vancouver, British Columbia.

Photograph by Getty Images

1. British Columbia, Canada

A focus on First Nations in the west

With an Indigenous history spanning 10,000 years, British Columbia is an ideal place to embark on a travel experience hosted by First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. The provincial capital, Victoria, is a great base from which to explore the cultures of Vancouver Island. Hire an RV to explore this wild island’s many ocean-front indigenous-owned campsites, prime spots for whale-spotting. Look out for orcas, grey, humpback and minke whales, plus dolphins, porpoises, sea lions and otters. 

Vancouver itself offers child-friendly options, including Talaysay Tours’ Talking Trees Tour: a 90-minute forest ramble through Stanley Park, where Squamish and Shíshálh cultural ambassadors explain how First Nations people across southern British Columbia have used the land for food, medicine and technology for countless generations.

From National Geographic Traveler US

2. Montenegro

Bikes, hikes and zip-wire adventures

How does Montenegro fit so much in? This Adriatic escape is smaller than Northern Ireland, yet bursting with snow-capped mountains, jewel-box lakes, rushing rivers, charming towns and gregarious locals. Cheaper and less visited than neighbouring Croatia, yet for so long its bridesmaid, 2021 looks like a breakthrough year.

Adventurous families will be in their element here. Five national parks protect over 60 peaks where hiking, biking, canyoning and rafting are options. Tour operators like Responsible Travel, Families Worldwide and UTracks have active itineraries, and a Tailor Made Rail trip added last year reminds us that you can also get there by train, including a stint on the stunning Belgrade-to-Bar route.

It’s not all about adventure, of course. Montenegro’s is a short but glittering coastline (avoid the crowds by visiting in shoulder season), and new hotel action includes an elegant Avanti in Buda and the One&Only Portonovi, set to open in spring at Boka Bay, close to the terracotta-topped town of Kotor. Marriott plans to bring the Ritz-Carlton brand to Montenegro in 2023, too.

From National Geographic Traveller UK

Pathway along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.

Photograph by Getty Images

3. England Coast Path, UK

Beating a trail along England’s rugged coastlines

A colossal undertaking reaches fruition in 2021 as the England Coast Path — the world’s longest seafront walking trail, stretching nearly 2,800 miles — is unveiled in its entirety.

How does a small nation successfully vie for this global title? The answer lies in England’s geography: peer closely at a map of the UK and you’ll see land meets water in an uneven zigzag of estuaries, inlets and promontories. That rugged seascape, awash with secretive coves, windswept bluffs and welcoming port towns, has been intrinsic to shaping the nation’s fortunes and character. The new England Coast Path aims to bring this prized patrimony to the people — and, in so doing, protect the landscape for generations to come.

England has a long history of coastal hiking, first formalising its love affair with seaside yomps in the 1970s with the establishment of the 630-mile South West Coast Path. The England Coast Path absorbs such existing stretches, as well as adding dozens of new sections.

Each segment of shore has a unique character, so whatever your family’s interests and hiking abilities, there are seaside trips to suit. While some stretches offer unspoiled scenery and muddy trails, others have been curated with premium facilities and points of interest. Opened in September 2020, the 40-mile segment dubbed ‘Cumbria’s Hidden Coast’, winding from Whitehaven to Millom, in the North West, offers new cycling paths and the chance to try activities like rock climbing at Muncaster Castle. Meanwhile, in the South East, a new trail — christened ‘England’s Creative Coast’ — links artworks and plots out a geocaching tour across Sussex, Kent and Essex.

This record-setting new National Trail arrives at a time when many families are rediscovering the joys of travel within the UK. Stay up to date as the final sections are launched by visiting the Natural England section of gov.uk.

From National Geographic Traveller UK

4. Japan

Cinematic sights and Olympic excitement

Japan is jumping out more and more as a family holiday option. Sure, it’s a long trek from Europe and can be expensive (although UK visitors haven’t let that put them off, ranking among the top 10 spending nations here in 2019, according to a government study). But it’s also incredibly safe and clean, everything works seamlessly, and its eye-popping mash-up of pop culture and ancient tradition is irresistible. From Shinto temples to cat cafes, Lost in Translation moments on futuristic loos, the Shibuya crossing and trying on a kimono, there really is nowhere like it.

The Olympics, delayed for a year, are rescheduled for Tokyo next summer. 2021 also sees the opening of Super Nintendo World (the gaming brand’s first theme park) in Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan. Ghibli Museum, whose animated classics like Spirited Away and Ponyo were released on Netflix during lockdown, can also be visited in suburban Tokyo — tours conclude with an original short that can only be seen in its Saturn Theatre.

Beyond the sci-fi cityscapes and Kawaii culture, off-grid gems include Yakushima Island — whose cedar forests inspired Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke (a bonus for hikers and nature lovers: it’s home to Japan’s oldest tree, an 82ft cedar said to be somewhere between 2,000 and 7,200 years old). Up north, take a shinkansen bullet train (don’t forget your ekiben train station bento box) to the Tohuku region, which next year marks the 10th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. Once dubbed the Deep North, this remote area is today a byword for recovery, with the new 435-mile Michinoku Coastal Trail threading its way through mountains and fishing villages and bearing testimony to stories of extraordinary resilience.

New openings for 2021 include the Treeful Treehouse eco-resort, with four private treehouses in the forest canopy, and Hygge Circles Ugakei, a sustainability-focused nature park with glamping cabins, both in Okinawa. Oh, and prepare to fall down a culinary rabbit hole that could change how you eat forever. Think velvety sashimi and marbled Wagyu beef, quivering udon noodles and sizzling okonomiyaki (‘fried-whatever-you-like’) pancakes from street vendors. It’s quite a trip.

From National Geographic Traveller UK

Brasov’s main square, Piata Sfatului, Transylvania.

Photograph by Getty Images

5. Transylvania, Romania

Finding reality in a land of gothic fantasy

One of the side effects of Dracula — the Gothic horror novel by Irish author Bram Stoker —was that it transformed Transylvania, a perfectly real Romanian region, into a mythical realm, a “cursed spot, from this cursed land, where the devil and his children still walk with earthly feet!” as the writer put it.

Since Stoker had never seen the place himself, he craftily compiled information for his 1897 novel from books written by British travel writers. He got some of the details right: the ‘robber steaks’ (grilled beef kebabs called rablóhús) and national dish mămăligă (a cornmeal porridge); sweet Golden Mediasch wine; descriptions of what folk wear; the roadside crosses; and the culturally complicated mix of Magyars, Saxons, Székelys and Wallachians.

What Stoker missed is what Transylvania should be known for: its pastoral, old-Europe feel. Cosmopolitan Cluj is the gateway to rural Transylvania’s wildflower meadows, storybook castles and cobbled-lane villages. For families increasingly tethered to technology, a future farm stay here would be a chance to unplug, to spend time instead traveling by horse-drawn cart, hiking in the wooded Carpathian Mountains, and helping with chores like milking sheep, collecting eggs and piling haystacks.

Transylvania’s bucolic charms have long captivated the Prince of Wales, whose foundation funds local architectural heritage preservation projects. “It’s the timelessness of it which is so remarkable,” the future king says in the travel documentary Wild Carpathia.

From National Geographic Traveler Romania 

6. Florida, USA

A launchpad for wonders both in the sky and in the waters below

With the new era of US launches upon us, Florida’s sunny Space Coast has never been more of a blast. Its 72 miles encompass Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, home to SpaceX launches and 100ft-high rockets that stand like mighty monuments. New for 2021 is Planet Play, an out-of-this-world interactive area where kids can ‘walk’ on the sun and slide through an asteroid field.

Tour company Florida Adventurer leads kayaking trips in the 140,000-acre Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. By day, kayakers are treated to glimpses of manatees and dolphins. At night (June to September or later), the refuge’s Indian River Lagoon hosts an otherworldly underwater show, courtesy of billions of light-producing plankton.

“On bioluminescence tours, families see light zigzagging in every direction under the water,” says Florida Adventurer owner Josh Myers. “These moments are life-changing for kids.”

From National Geographic Traveler Russia

7. Hortobágy National Park, Hungary

Cowboys and cranes on open plains

The broad spaces of Hortobágy National Park are nature-made for social distancing. Covering nearly 200,000 acres of the Great Hungarian Plain in eastern Hungary, the expansive UNESCO World Heritage Site preserves the largest remaining native grassland in Europe as well as pastoral traditions dating back millennia.

Poor soil for farming helped keep Hortobágy’s mosaic of alkaline marshes, meadows, pastures and loess-steppe vegetation intact. Free from ploughing and significant development, this puszta (barren land) flourished. The resulting rich grassland ecosystem, protected since 1973, provides critical habitat for some 340 bird species, including tens of thousands of winged fall migration travellers, like gray geese and common cranes.

Hortobágy isn’t strictly for the birds, though. A few hundred shepherds and cowboys, called csikós, still roam the land, giving families a rare look at centuries-old animal husbandry traditions. Horse-drawn carriage tours pass by herdsmen and their puli dogs, an ancient Hungarian breed, and racka sheep, famous for their corkscrew horns.

Also home on the Hortobágy range: one of the largest populations of endangered Przewalski’s horses, the last surviving subspecies of wild horse. Some 300 wander the park’s Pentezug Wild Horse Reserve.

From National Geographic Traveler Hungary

Read more from Best of the World: 35 incredible trips for 2021 and beyond

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